Social justice coalition fights utility rate hike requests

By: - July 28, 2022 12:31 pm

Corzetta Renee led three dozen activists from the Defend Black Voters Coalition in chanting “Which Side Are You On” during a Michigan Public Service Commission meeting in Detroit. | Ken Coleman

The Defend Black Voters Coalition during a public meeting in Detroit on Wednesday called for the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) to reject energy rate increases for two utilities. 

The action came as MPSC considered a request for leading utility companies DTE and Consumers Energy to secure rate increases of 9% and 7%, respectively. The MPSC did not act on the measure and would not comment on the rate cases, according to spokesman Matt Helms. 

Neither DTE nor Consumers Energy responded to the Advance’s request for comment. 

However, the Citizens Utility Board of Michigan, an independent organization, analyzed the cases. 

“If the MPSC grants these rate increases, it will be Black women who will be disproportionately carrying the burden, and we won’t take it,” said Eboni Taylor, Michigan executive director of the Mothering Justice Action Fund.

Michigan Public Service Commission members Katherine Peretick, Dan Scripps and Tremaine Phillips. | Ken Coleman

About three dozen activists from the coalition chanted “Which Side Are You On,” a union-organizing anthem written by Florence Reece and based on a Baptist hymn called, “Lay the Lily Low.” After the meeting, they continued the chanting and garnered occasional horn honks by passing motorists outside the Cadillac Place Building, which houses several state of Michigan agencies and department offices.

It was another in a series of public demonstrations carried out by the Defend Black Voters Coalition, which has its partners social justice organizations Mothering Justice Action Fund, MOSES (Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength) Action, Emergent Justice, Michigan People’s Campaign, Michigan Liberation and Community Change Action.

In June, the coalition rallied during the Mackinac Policy Conference and two weeks later in Detroit, where it called on Michigan-based corporations General Motors, Ford, DTE Energy and Consumers Energy to pledge to end campaign contributions to state lawmakers “who are working to make it harder for Black people in Michigan to cast ballots.”

“If the MPSC grants these rate increases, it will be Black women who will be disproportionately carrying the burden, and we won’t take it,” said Eboni Taylor, Michigan executive director of the Mothering Justice Action Fund. | Ken Coleman

The coalition has criticized them for backing GOP lawmakers who supported the “voter suppression effort called the Secure MI Vote [ballot] initiative.”

During both the public comment section of the meeting and later at a news conference outside of Cadillac Place, coalition members not only called for the MPSC to reject a utilities rate increase, but also only demanded that public hearings be held when rate cases arise in the future. 

MPSC Chair Dan Scripps, a Democratic former state House member, told coalition members during the meeting that “to his knowledge” there has not been a public hearing when the body has considered a rate case and was noncommittal about holding one. He added that the public wants to hear from Michiganders and holding meetings outside of Lansing is a way to achieve that. 

Scripps told the Advance that the commission has a statutory period of time to act on a rate case request. No action after that period would mean the utilities would be granted the increase, he said. 

“It is a clear challenge,” said Scripps. “It is a timeline that is really tight. We are looking at how we can do more, in terms of public input. That’s what today was about.” 

The Defend Black Voters Coalition during a public meeting in Detroit on Wednesday called for the Michigan Public Service Commission to reject energy rate increases. | Ken Coleman

MPSC’s next scheduled meeting is Aug. 11, according to its website. The meeting will be held in Lansing with a teleconference option. 

The coalition has continually demanded that corporations, like DTE and Consumers Energy “to stop making donations to extremist lawmakers backing a voter suppression effort that could pass by the end of the year. 

“Now these utilities are asking the MPSC for permission to raise rates by 9% and 7% respectively,” said the coalition through a written statement. “This would allow for an even greater transfer of money from Black and working-class people to the lawmakers trying to make it harder for them to vote.”

Scripps was joined at the meeting by fellow members Katherine Peretick and Tremaine Phillips, all Whitmer administration appointments to the three-member body. 

“This increase would be astronomical in the time of a pandemic,” said Bishop Herman Starks after the meeting. “We say no. We say that people are hurting and enough is enough.”

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Ken Coleman
Ken Coleman

Ken Coleman covers Southeast Michigan, economic justice and civil rights. He is a former Michigan Chronicle senior editor and served as the American Black Journal segment host on Detroit Public Television. He has written and published four books on black life in Detroit, including Soul on Air: Blacks Who Helped to Define Radio in Detroit and Forever Young: A Coleman Reader. His work has been cited by the Detroit News, Detroit Free Press, History Channel and CNN. Additionally, he was an essayist for the award-winning book, Detroit 1967: Origins, Impacts, Legacies. Ken has served as a spokesperson for the Michigan Democratic Party, Detroit Public Schools, U.S. Sen. Gary Peters and U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence. Previously to joining the Advance, he worked for the Detroit Federation of Teachers as a communications specialist. He is a Big Brothers Big Sisters of Metropolitan Detroit advisory board member.

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